South American Food You Have To Try When Traveling: South American Cuisine & Popular Dishes


10 Foods You Have to Try in South America

Shannon O'Donnell Feb 25, 2021

Heading to South America? Get ready to indulge in these local delicacies. 

South America presents travelers with unforgettable culinary experiences. Whether you favor sit-down dinners or on-the-go treats from street vendors, it’s a safe bet that no matter which country you visit, you’ll find something to delight your taste buds. These 10 dishes are some of the most popular—and delicious—ones to try throughout the continent. Are you ready to pack your bags yet?

1. Ceviche (Peru)

This popular seafood dish got its start in Peru but has become widespread throughout the coastal of both South and Central America. Fresh, raw seafood (usually some regions sort of white fish) is cured in citrus juice (lemon, lime, or Seville orange), spiked with some heat from chili peppers, and garnished with onion and cilantro. If you love sashimi, you’ll flip for this delicacy.

2. Arepas (Venezuela)

This flatbread sandwich made from ground maize dough or cooked flour can be filled with just about anything, from cheese to meat to eggs. Depending on where you go, the number of arepa varieties on a single menu can go into the double digits! The heartier options are sometimes eaten as a main-course, while smaller or less complex arepas make for perfect snacks.

3. Empanadas (Argentina)

This crispy, half-moon shaped pastry has a hot, savory filling of cheese, meat, or vegetables. In Argentina, every province has its own signature flavor. One is a snack, but two or three can make a meal.

4. Pisco Sour (Chile, Peru)

The Pisco Sour is a popular cocktail throughout South America, but it’s the national drink of both Chile and Peru. It is made with pisco, a brandy produced in both Chile and Peru, mixed with egg whites, Angostura bitters, lime juice, simple syrup, and ice. Variations on the Pisco Sour incorporate different fruit juices that change up the flavor. Many believe it’s the perfect accompaniment to ceviche, so be sure to try both when in Peru!

Pisco Sour

5. Yerba Maté (Argentina)

This tea made from the leaves of the South American rainforest holly tree is insanely popular in Argentina, where you’ll see just about everyone carrying around their own metal cup and straw filled with this invigorating, caffeinated brew. Maté is an acquired taste, but the drink is addictively tasty once you get used to it.

6. Pastel (Brazil)

Thinner than an empanada, the pastel is another crispy pastry stuffed with an assortment of ingredients. Popular fillings of these delicious fried pies included melted cheese, ground meat, hearts of palm, and small shrimp. Though pastel is usually a savory treat, it’s possible to find sweet varieties filled with things like guava jam or chocolate.

dulce de leche

7. Dulce de Leche (Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil)

The lusciously sweet dulce de leche is a popular confection that’s incorporated into many South American desserts. The milky caramel is made by simmering milk, sugar, and sometimes with vanilla, and served with everything from donuts and muffins to toast. It can be hard to find outside of South America, and many visitors who try it for the first time are instantly hooked. Be sure to bring some home to satisfy those post-vacation cravings! (Just pack it securely in your carry-on bag, of course.)

8. Brigadeiros (Brazil)

The brigadeiro is a chocolate truffle or bonbon native to Brazil. These delightful morsels are made from condensed milk, powdered chocolate, and butter, and covered with chocolate sprinkles—a chocoholic’s dream! 

9. Platanos Fritos (All of South America)

Fried plantains, or platanos fritos, are a quintessential South American delight. The soft texture just about melts in your mouth, and the crumbly burnt bits are beyond delicious. These delicious treats can be found pretty easily throughout South America.

10. Chorizo (Argentina)

Argentina is a nation of unabashed carnivores, but chorizo stands out as one of the country’s most delicious meats. You can find this sausage on the menu at just about any Argentine restaurant, as well as tempting you with its inimitable smoky scent at every street stall. Chorizo has made its way around the world at this point, but don’t miss the chance to try it in its native land.

Remember to declare any food you pack to bring across country lines, and check with customs to make sure you can bring your favorite treats back—especially fruits, veggies, and meat.

Shannon O'Donnell

By Shannon O'Donnell

Shannon O'Donnell is a long-term traveler who has been on the road since 2008; she travels slowly and supports grassroots tourism along the way. She is an acclaimed travel speaker and works with universities and businesses all over the U.S. to talk about supporting developing countries.